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June 14, 2010

Effective media coverage of the new proposed federal sentencing guidelines

The Philadelphia Daily News has this effective new piece headlined "Defendants could benefit from new federal sentencing guidelines." Here are excerpts:

Current sentencing guidelines say that the age and medical condition of a defendant are "not ordinarily relevant" factors when deciding whether leniency is warranted at sentencing, but they soon could be.

After Nov. 1, these kinds of personal characteristics "may be relevant" provided they are "present to an unusual degree" under new guidelines recently adopted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, if Congress doesn't disapprove them....

And the new rules also permit judges to send certain nonviolent drug offenders to drug- or alcohol-abuse treatment centers instead of prison.

All judges use the guidelines as the starting point in calculating sentences, and many typically sentence defendants within the guidelines - which often means prison time - unless prosecutors request leniency on behalf of cooperating witnesses. (In 2009, for example, 54 percent of defendants eligible for a nonprison sentence in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania were sent to prison anyway.)

Commission chairman William K. Sessions III said that nationally there was "a great need for alternatives to incarceration," based on feedback the commission received. If Congress approves them, the new guidelines are likely to mean that some white-collar defendants now sent to prison may receive nonprison sentences.

The new guidelines could double the number of offenders eligible for probation, said Jonathan Wroblewski, director of the Department of Justice's Office of Policy and Legislation, in a written submission to the commission prior to its adoption of the new guidelines. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department had no further comment on the new guidelines.

Sessions said the proposed changes would help to lower recidivism, save taxpayers money and protect the public. For example, taxpayers now pay an average of $27,252 per year to house an inmate in federal prison as opposed to $3,808 to supervise a defendant sentenced to probation.

Wroblewski said that federal prosecutors were "extremely cautious" about revisions to the guidelines related to offender characteristics, adding that the changes could "exacerbate" unwarranted sentencing disparities and create a "new level of uncertainty and unpredictability" in sentencing.

Other observers suggested that some of the proposed new guidelines may make sentencing fairer. "It's good news because the commission seems to be looking more at the individual characteristics of the defendant," said Leigh M. Skipper, the chief federal defender in Philadelphia. "It's a shift in focus."

Related posts on the new proposed sentencing guidelines :

June 14, 2010 at 10:02 AM | Permalink

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